Treff Punkt: Then and Now
Treff Punkt is a German word for a meeting place. I came across the word when I travelled to Frankfurt in 1977. I was asked to meet a person at Treff Punkt at Frankfurt International airport. We did not have GPS and Google Maps those days.
In my school days, my friend Bheemanna and I used to meet for a ‘Bru coffee’ in a small shack in my town. That was our treff punkt. Those days there were very limited places and opportunities to meet though we had a lot of time.
I would classify the meeting places into three categories: Informal, Formal and Public.
Informal meeting places include family get-together, meeting places for heartthrobs, meeting places for friends etc. I shall again sub-classify as small (friends, sweethearts), medium (family, engagement, small family events)) and large( marriages and social gatherings)
Formal meetings places are traditional meeting places in offices, job interviews, sales meeting etc. I shall again sub-classify them as small( one on ones, performance feedback sessions, exit interviews), medium (office team meetings, team outings, presentations) and large (conferences, town halls and expos)
Public meetings would include political rallies and large religious get-togethers. I would also include meetings at the assembly stations in offices and apartment complexes during an emergency situation. I love these because these are the only occasions I get a chance to meet your colleagues and neighbors easily.
Less number of locations to meet: In our days, boy and girl had limited opportunities to see and talk to each other — bus stop, balcony of girl’s house if she has one, library or a college. Mostly sign language. Love notes used get inserted in the books exchanged. Physical meetings were rare as such meetings happened in a lot of secrecy. If you get noticed, hell will break loose.
Social events: Marriages and family functions are the other occasions where people met. These were the places where prospective brides and bridegrooms would get noticed and seeds will be sown for their future relationships. All of us used to make it a point these social functions because of sumptuous food served.
Parks used to be the public places: This is where children and the elderly would generally meet. I liked my work in Godrej, Vikroli. Hillside colony used to have a highly illuminated ground where families met practically every evening. That was a great family meeting place. Children used to play and the parents used to talk to each other. A lot of peer learning for children and adults. I do not know whether this ground still exists.
Private clubs and Pubs: Usually these are associated with drinking and card playing and meant for rich guys. Going to a club or a pub was also considered a taboo. Also it is impossible to get into these clubs. Membership is unaffordable (Remember the top rung of Maslow’s theory of needs — Self -actualisation). Bangalore started the pub culture and never looked back. Pubs are a huge hit among youngsters. It is estimated that there are now about 100 pubs in Twelfth Main and Eighty feet road in Indiranagar, Bangalore alone.
Family lunches and Dinners: I remember as a family, we used to meet for lunch or dinner daily. This was an opportunity to put forward requests, resolve any contentious issues in the family. Family lunches and dinners at home have become a thing of the past. We see these events only in movies now.
Restaurants and movie theatres: There were a few restaurants and movie theatres. Even if one visits these places, gets noticed easily and you would be the talk of the street next day.
Technology: In my younger days, we had a very limited set of tools — Postcard, Inland letters, postal covers, telegram and telephone were the primary modes of communication. TVs did not exist. Telegrams were deadly. These usually brought bad news. Morse code was used for sending and receiving the telegrams. Any mistake in punching the Morse Code would create a disaster the other end. You also need to go to a post office to book a ‘trunk’ call to talk someone in a different town or a city. There used to be two types of phone calls: PP and General. PP was meant for a particular person. If that PP is not available for some reason, no other person is allowed to talk to take the call. The waiting times were long and it is almost impossible to get connected in less than two to three hours. There was also a service called ‘ Express Delivery’, a better service than the current day courier services. We used to tip the postman who delivers a telegram or an ‘Express Delivery’ if he delivers good news. When you want to be sure that the message is delivered definitely, we used to use’ Not Paid’ service. Simply post the letter without affixing any stamp. The postman at the receiving end will definitely deliver the letter as he is mandated to collect double the charge from the receiver.
Technology: Several communication tools have systematically impacted our meeting places and lives. Many time tested tools have vanished. Computers, mobile phones, tablets and notebooks have invaded all the houses. You need not go to neighbor to talk or go to a shop to buy stuff. You need not go to a bank or go to a restaurant for eating. There are instant messaging systems, video tools and social media spaces to be in touch with one another. There used to be a saying that ‘we are like frogs in the wells’. Now we have become frogs on devices’. We see the world only through our technology devices now. Technology is compelling physical contacts becoming lesser and lesser.
There are virtual meetings, Skype meetings and Zoom meetings. There used be a product from Cisco called Telepresence. Most of the corporates installed a lot of infrastructure to make Telepresence work. We also have digital assistants such as Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google Asst. to help us with daily digital chores.
Expectations have changed : There is an unstated assumption that the other person is always available for you on 24/7 basis. He or she has to respond to my message instantaneously. I also learn that this is one of the key metrics to decide on the beloved. (Number of SMSs/hour and the cycle times to respond to the texts)
Time constraints: Time have become a scarce resource these days. Though the day continues to have 24 hours, it seems the time is not enough to accomplish stated objectives in the day. Though the technological revolution was expected to make the life easier, the situation has gone the other way round. The time has to be squeezed, analysed, allotted and scheduled to meet the daily requirements. It is extremely difficult to meet your neighbor which was much easier in earlier days. I remember a meeting with a friend which happened after ninety days after my request. He lives in the same city as me.
Traffic: Given the traffic situation in most of the cities and the available time, it is very difficult to move from point A to Point B. Also, we can not go from one place to other without Google Maps. My flower vendor is unable to come to my house without using Google Maps. Home invitations are very rare these days.
Entertainment scene: There are so many TV channels and soaps that it is impossible to meet anyone in the ‘ Prime’ time. Netflix and Prime have caught the attention of many who get glued to the string of episodes. Viewing the idiot box has a higher priority than a personal conversation for many.
Public places: Public places do not exist in most of the cities. Even if they exist, they are maintained very poorly. Parking is a huge problem and it is impossible to access some these public places. I believe there is a big move to convert large cemeteries into public places in some cities. Arlington Cemetery and Vienna Central Cemetery are good examples. In fact in our own Bhuj and Jamnagar in Gujarat host cemeteries as tourist attractions.
Meetings as business: There is a huge emerging business around meetings. Apart from the digital tools, there are specialists who help you in setting up the meetings, small or big. I believe there is a new skill emerging — Certified Meeting Professional (CMP). He is basically a meeting planner. Pellilla Perayya (the marriage broker) has also transformed himself into a marriage planner now. These marriage planners claim to provide end to end services from the first meeting to the first child.
Government regulations: Urban policy makers are constantly struggling to tighten the regulations in such way that the general public can not step out of the homes easily.
Safety and security: These are big subjects for meeting places. Devices such as video cameras are of no use unless someone has the time to look at the data. There is more crime on the streets than before. Hence difficult to step out.
Privacy: This has become a huge subject these days. More talked and less understood. Even a small child these days, speaks of private space and personal space.
What next ?
I am making a few recommendations to consider.
Eat together: Encourage all the family members to eat together at least on holidays and Sundays.
Common projects: Take up common projects such as terrace gardening, cleaning the house, cooking together once a week.
Meet at least two friends a week: Make it a point to meet at least two friends a week face to face.
Digital detox: Follow the new lingo. As always, we always come back in full circle. There are several new words spilling into conversations these days: Technology fast (no usage of any technology tools including a mobile phone and TV akin to Saturday upawaas !) and Digital detox (no usage of a few digital devices over a defined period of time)
No plan days: Decide on three no plan days a month. Do not plan anything. Take the day as it comes.
Encourage physical conversations: Encourage face to face conversations. While emails, what’s up are efficient, face to face conversations help you understanding the person better.
Outings and hiking: Go out and involve in small outdoor activities. At least plan one in a quarter. I like Jungle Lodges in Karnataka as they do not have wi-fi and even lights in some locations.
Take children to public places: Parks, museums, nature walks and libraries. You need to convey to children the strong message that people are more important than devices.
Finally read this beautiful poem from my childhood by WH Davies which sums of whatever I have been saying though we do not get to see many things described by the poet.
WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare? —
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.